Jack's Comrades (A Celtic tale)

June 28, 2014 

Once upon a time, a poor widow had a son named Jack. One year, during a drought, the widow worried they would die before the potatoes came.

Jack said to his mother, "Bake me a cake and kill a hen, and I will go out and seek my fortune. I'll soon return to share it with you, and you'll never go hungry."

Jack went along seeking work, but no one needed help. After a few weeks, he found himself one afternoon beside a bog where a donkey was stuck up to his shoulders.

"Please, help me out or I'll drown," the donkey said.

Jack pitched stones into the bog until the donkey had a good footing, and when the donkey was on solid ground, he bowed his head and said, "May you never go hungry! Where, may I ask, are you going?"

"I'm seeking my fortune," Jack said, and the donkey decided to go along, so off they trotted.

Soon they saw some lads chasing a poor old dog with a kettle tied to its tail.

As the dog ran toward Jack, the donkey let out a terrible bray, and he scared the lads, who ran away as fast as they could. Then Jack untied the kettle from the dog's tail.

"May you never go hungry!" said the dog. "Where, may I ask, are you headed?"

"We're seeking our fortune," Jack said, and the dog said he would be proud to join them. So off they set.

Late in the day, Jack sat down against a tree and pulled out his cake and his meat. He shared it with the dog while the donkey feasted on thistles. While they were eating, along came a cat so skinny that when he turned he nearly disappeared.

"You're starving," Jack said. "Take this," and he tossed over the last of his meat.

The cat swallowed it, then looked at Jack and said, "May you never know a day of hunger. Where, may I ask, are you headed?"

"We're seeking our fortune," Jack said. So the cat joined the crew.

As they walked through the forest, suddenly out of the bush leaped a fox with a rooster in his mouth. The donkey brayed. The cat hissed. The dog howled and chased that fox, and the fox dropped his prize and escaped.

The trembling rooster said, "May fortune find you! Where, may I ask, are you headed?"

"We're seeking our fortune," said Jack, and the rooster joined them, too.

"We can sleep in the grass tonight," Jack said, but suddenly the rooster, who was perched atop a tree, said, "Look, there's a light and a cottage up ahead!"

"Let's go see what's there," Jack said, so they marched on. But when they heard laughter, Jack said, "Shhh! Let's be quiet until we see who we are dealing with here."

Jack crept near the window and peered inside and saw six robbers around a table, eating roast and potatoes and talking about the gold they had just stolen from the king.

"Listen," Jack whispered. The donkey then put his hoofs on the window ledge, and the dog climbed atop the donkey's head, and the cat climbed on the dog's head, and the rooster sat on the cat's head.

Jack whispered, "OK, ready, let's scare them!" and with Jack as conductor, the rooster crowed, the cat hissed, the dog howled, the donkey brayed, and they made a terrible racket.

The robbers looked at each other and cried, "What's that?"

Meanwhile, Jack urged, "Get ready to fire! Don't leave anyone alive!"

Terrified, the robbers sped out the back door so fast that it was hard to see them. Jack and his comrades walked through the front and closed the shutters and began to enjoy the feast. Then Jack curled up in a bed, and the donkey lay down on a cushion of hay outside the front door, and the cat slept by the fire, and the rooster slept on a perch.

Out in the woods, the robbers were cold and tired. They began to grumble about their comforts and gold left behind.

"I'll go check and make sure everything's safe," the gang's leader said.

When he got back, he groped his way inside the cottage through the back door. As he made his way toward the fire, the cat hurled himself at the robber, and with fierce claws tore at the man's face. The robber turned to run, but he stepped on the dog's tail. The dog began to bite at his thighs.

"Let me out of here!" the robber cried. But as he was trying to escape, the rooster dropped on top of him and pecked at his eyes. The robber then reeled right out the front door, where the donkey kicked him as hard as he could. The robber lay in a puddle of mud, unconscious.

At dawn, he awoke, and he ran.

Back at the cottage, Jack said, "We must return the gold to the king. It's the right thing to do," so they poured all the gold into two ends of a sack, and Jack laid the sack across the donkey's back.

Jack presented the gold to the king, and he told the story of discovering the robbers, and of how well his comrades fought to storm the cottage.

The king was so pleased that he gave everyone the best he had.

And when they sat down to supper that night, the king said, "Jack, my boy, you will never go hungry again. I'll see to that!"

Sure enough, Jack never did, and neither did his mother, and neither did any of his new friends.

"Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder," the third CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit mythsandtales.com.

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